Keep Your Ankles Strong to Stay On Your Feet


NBA player Tyreke Evans grabs his ankle in pain.
Getty / Thomas B. Shea

They snap, crackle and pop and no we’re not talking about cereal. They’re your joints and even more specifically your ankles. Whether you want to take proactive measures or you’re trying to prevent a re-injury, two podiatry experts share their recommendations to keep your ankles healthy and you performing at your best.

SEE ALSO: How to Deal With Ankle Pain

These Boots Are Made for Walking

“Most of us are probably wearing the wrong size shoe,” Foot and Ankle Orthopedic Surgeon and Duke University Professor Selene Parekh says. “Once a year go to a store that specializes in athletic shoes and get fitted appropriately.”

An avid runner, Dr. Parekh adds to not jump on the orthotic insert train either as they are “way over prescribed.” He says if the sales associate recommends an orthotic, verify your individual need with a medical professional first rather than risking an injury due to an unneeded insert. 

Podiatrist Megan Leahy of the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute suggestions are along a similar vein. “Choose a shoe that’s activity specific,” the former collegiate runner and Chicago Fire team podiatrist says. “Injuries can occur easily for instance when you’re wearing a running shoe and playing basketball.”

One Step At a Time

Both doctors indicate many fitness enthusiasts and athletes alike try to come out of the gates guns blazing.  Dr. Parekh says he sees individuals ramp up their activity too quickly, “Everything should be gradual.”

He suggests a cyclical training cycle of one intense workout day, one easier day and then a rest day, then repeat. For those individuals who are in a competition or particular sport season or meeting a deadline, his alternative is cross training with an intense day, less impactful day and then a non-impact day such as swimming, biking or yoga session. 

Dr. Leahy adds, “Be careful in your progression. I’ve seen people go from the couch to the court, thinking they can jump right back into a sport they played ten years ago, then they end up hurt.”

She further advocates switching up your workouts to utilize different muscle groups surrounding the ankle. She explains runners, as an example, should change terrains such as going from a sidewalk to a trail for a short recovery run.

SEE ALSO: How to Prevent Foot Injuries

Stretch It Out

Stretching, each doctor says, is a key component to gaining ankle strength.

Dr. Leahy says if there is one stretch you make time for it should be the calf wall stretch where you lean into the wall with one knee bent and the other leg extended behind you with your foot flat to the ground or floor. She says to hold this stretch for 90 seconds on each side about ten minutes into your warm up and prior to proceeding with the rest of your exercise routine. For someone with a prior ankle injury, she says to repeat this exercise three times daily. 

“This stretch can help the ankle function in its best way. When you’re tight in your calf it can lead to problems in your gate cycle causing issues with the ankle,” she details.  Dr. Parekh says stretching is critical in injury prevention and says some form of yoga or Pilates should be incorporated into your exercise regimen regularly. “I’m a big fan of flexibility. As we get older, we’re less flexible than we once were,” he says.

Kick old-fashioned misnomers to the curb

Dr. Leahy says she regularly hears old schools of thought in regards to ankle care that do more harm than good. These antiquated recommendations from others include when someone tweaks or rolls an ankle to walk it off, take some ibuprofen and put an ace bandage around it. She says, an ankle injury isn’t always that simple and a sprain can cause more long-term damage than a fracture including post-traumatic arthritis, instability and more. 

She adds someone with a sprain may need a time of immobility in a brace or boot. She says using a brace or athletic tape during activity should not be seen as a crutch and may need to be used for up to a year post injury. As always in the case of an injury, she says to speak to a medical professional and establish a relationship with a podiatrist.  

Additional Aids

Dr. Parekh says there are supplements that help with overall health, ankle and joint health and decrease inflammation including green tea, turmeric as well as a product called juice plus, which is high in antioxidants. 

He says, “Most of us don’t realize how weak our ankles are until we have an injury.”